But if they could speak, could they truthfully say, "I've never been genetically modified?"
Probably not, according to a panel of experts who study GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- and the process behind them.
"You can take any corn product and show that it's genetically modified," said
The timing of the cafe made it tempting to cross that line. Legislators in many states, including
That, she said, indicates the
The other panelist,
Also called genetic engineering, the process involves inserting one organisms' genes into another organism, thereby altering anything from growth pattern to color to shape and size in the receiving organism.
One way to do that, Stake told the group, is by firing a gun -- one that differs considerably from your conventional firearm.
"It looks kind of like a gun, what it does is break cell walls to allow the introduction of DNA," he said. "It's primarily used for plants right now, but they're looking into other uses, like administering vaccines."
Instead of bullets, the gun fires DNA from the "donor" plant, and while it's not very efficient -- "actually, it's pretty low," Stake said of the efficiency rate -- the process can be repeated over and over again to get the desired results. The way you find out if the plant accepted the DNA is waiting and watching, he said. "If it's accepted, you'll see some expression of it in the protein, and how (the plant) grows and changes colors," he said.
Parent noted rather wryly the upside to experimenting with plant DNA: "You don't have
On the topic of food, one attendee asked the panel whether it's known how many foods have been genetically modified to some degree.
"More than you want to know," Dopler-Nelson said. "About 80 percent (of food products) have something in them that's been genetically modified."
She cited cattle as an example, saying the soy products and corn they eat have often been modified. But whether that can make the end-product, in this case beef, unsafe to consume is where the debate resumes.
"Some documentaries have been made that are based on scare tactics," Dopler-Nelson said. At one point or another, she added, "GMOs are blamed for almost everything" that affects people's health.
While the panelists agreed there are limits, practical and ethical, to the changes scientists can make in organisms, Stake said giant "seed banks" have been created, primarily has a back-up world food supply.
While it smacks of "conspiracy theory," Stake said with a grin, the banks can store an almost infinite number and variety of seeds that, if catastrophe should wipe out our traditional food supplies, can go a long way to feeding the population.
The topic of the next Science Cafe New Hampshire, on
For more on Science Cafe New Hampshire, its programs and other information, visit www.science cafenh.org.
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